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Bonham Theatre and Video: A Historic Cinema with a Contemporary Selection

By Marina I. Jokic

There have been three fundamental shifts in film history: the change from silent film to sound, from black and white to color, and from 35mm film to digital cinema. The most turbulent conversion was by far from conventional film to digital, which required completely different visual and sound systems and came at a great expense to theater owners.

Like all other theaters, Bonham Theatre has gone through major changes and renovations, especially in the last decade. From a silent movie theater with live organ music to a traditional movie salon with a video store, Bonham made it through the challenges of the digital conversion and resurfaced as an important cinematic landmark in Prairie Du Sac. Thanks to the fundraising initiative called Friends of Bonham, money was donated to make possible the theater's conversion to a digital format.

The digital conversion brought many positive changes to the viewing experience, but also presented a lot of technical challenges for movie theater managers across the nation. At that time, Hollywood studios vowed to help deflect some of the cost of the conversion, but the model they used disproportionately helped large town multiplexes and did far less for small, independent cinemas like Bonham.

"In 2011, we needed to decide between converting, which carried a price tag of $250,000 or closing when film was phased out," current owner Connie Henry said.

Although the Friends of Bonham initiative did not raise too much in the way of funds, it did indicate the community's wish to keep Bonham alive. Today, Friends of Bonham continues to raise modest funds through its loyalty program, which has been quite successful in establishing a solid client base.

Notwithstanding its many growing pains, the digital revolution enabled Bonham to bring the newest movies to the community. The theater is able to play more independent films, show alternative content such as live concerts and shows, 3D movies, and also make some much needed cosmetic updates.

Bonham's family-friendly vibe makes it a popular spot for many people with kids. Bonham's staff and regular customers are a close-knit community, with many of them long-time residents of the city. The premises are available for private showings and parties, civic engagements, fundraisers, and corporate meetings.

"Having [a] birthday party here keeps your house clean," Henry said. "No need to prepare food or plan entertainment as we provide popcorn and soda [along with] a great movie experience."

At birthday celebrations, there is time to open presents, socialize with friends and family, enjoy an entertaining film, and hang out in a historic movie salon. The theater has hosted its share of weddings, too, substituting popcorn for rice, of course.

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